You finally landed the internship of your dreams, you will spend your summer interning at a women’s empowerment NGO in Rwanda. You, with no experience at all besides a couple of courses and multiple buzzfeed videos under your belt, will get on a plane to help empower women. That sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?
Here’s the catch, you will not receive any sort of compensation. Yet, your professors, your college counselors, and basically everyone around you, including yourself have bought into the idea that this internship will open many doors. And actually, you are right, it will open doors to other unpaid internships. Employers will take one look at your resume, find it interesting, ask you a couple of questions regarding your previous internship, which you will endlessly gush about, and well–you will land a new unpaid internship.
Let’s be honest, unpaid internships are just great memories. That’s it. It’s an experience that you pay for.
Here’s the thing, most organizations that hire unpaid interns, if not all, actually have no need to pay those interns. In particular, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which all do magnificent work, rely on young, and eager students to work for free because they do not have the funds to pay up. Even wealthy IGOs like the United Nations, which constantly preaches about equality and access, does not provide paid internships. However, they do expect you to work full-time, cover your own expenses, and be motivated all the way to the end. There is no chance that you will be offered a full-time position by the end of summer.
Worst of all is that we buy into this. When did we start to think that it’s okay to provide free labor? When did we start to think that spending a summer working for free in Washington D.C is better than working as a barista at a coffee shop? A barista job can provide you with the same skills as a communications internship in D.C. Now, I will not deny the importance of social networking nowadays, that is the reason why so many millennials need to take on unpaid internships–to make connections. However, this system of unpaid internships is not only exploitative, but also enforces unequal access to opportunities.
Now, is there anything wrong with doing an unpaid internship? If you have the resources, the time, and the motivation to work for free–sure, go for it. Having something extra on your resume will not hurt. If you have to scrap a few bucks everyday for transportation and you know that you actually need a job, don’t work for free. It’s not worth it. Or better yet, find yourself a paid internship. Yes, they are competitive but it’s because most companies that pay do actually consider you for potential employment. They want invest in you. So, try that instead.
We are constantly told that, “time is money” well then, dare I ask, isn’t our time worth money?
By: Glindys Luciano